In Canada, we almost have a two-stage greeting whenever chatting with someone. First we exchange some form of “Hello”, and then we exchange some form of “how are you?” This is fairly standard, and even repeated phone calls in a short period of time tend to start with this exchange. No one really cares what the answer to “how are you?” is, and any answer other than “good” is viewed as odd. If you want an actual answer, you have to ask a second time – usually varying the wording slightly.
However, in Brazil this is not done. A person does not ask “how are you” (Portuguese, “Tudo Bom?”) without actually meaning it. So, you don’t have the same exchange of pleasantries before getting into a conversation. For Canadians hearing this, it may seem abrupt, or even rude. But it should not be taken that way. In fact, it is actually a little odd that Canadians do this weird exchange, as it makes no sense to ask questions for which we don’t want an actual answer. I explained to Minha Esposa (my wife) that I even tend to do this when I go to the doctor, when I am notably not “good”, as that’s why I am at the doctor.
This is also something that Minha Esposa is having trouble with in Canada. She does not understand this exchange, or why people do it – she assumes people who ask her how she is doing actually want an answer, and she does not ask unless she is genuinely interested in how others are doing. And, really, that is how it should be. After spending some time thinking about this, the best explanation I can come up to as to why Canadians do this, is that we are essentially offering to let the other person speak first if they have something important to discuss. The “how are you?” essentially means “I would like to discuss something with you, but if you have something urgent, I am offering you a chance to speak first.” So, it is actually part of the stereotype of Canadian Politeness. While I have offered this explanation to Minha Esposa, she makes a good point that it is not actually all that polite to ask a question and not care about the answer. Since Canadians do this almost by instinct, it isn’t something I’d really thought about before. But, I love that learning about Brazilian Culture, it also gives me a chance to learn about my own.
However, in Brazil, it is not uncommon for women to kiss on the cheek when meeting, and men often exchange a pat on the back when greeting one another. Physical contact is important in Brazil for warm greetings. Due to the multicultural nature of Canada, this happens sometimes here, but not nearly as often as you’ll see in Brazil. So, I still find it odd and have difficulty getting used to it. But, it does make me feel extremely welcome.